Last week my daughter & I visited the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, a nonprofit marine science center located right in the heart of Portland’s harbor.
My daughter’s 5th grade class had been invited to participate in a special program called Lobster: Untold Tales and I was tagging along as a chaperone. I’d never thought much about lobsters before – apart from how tasty they are – so I was interested to see what I’d been missing. After being briefed in the lobby, we were led into a state-of-the-art interactive exhibit room for our LabVenture!
As someone easily impressed by things like salt free food and wild turkeys, you can imagine how taken in I was by the (nearly) $2.5 million facility above. With its gigantic screens and its dark lighting and shiny metal kiosks, I felt like I’d stepped right onto the set of CSI! But instead of being ordered to stand behind the camera, the LabVenture! program is all ACTION! Not only were we set loose in the “lab” to investigate, but we got to (hold your breath) TOUCH LOBSTERS.
OOOOOoooohhhh!!!!! Just like the ones at the supermarket! But now we were studying rather than steaming them. As an adult chaperone, I volunteered to be in charge of the lobsters. You know I did. When they asked who’d be willing to dole them out, my hand shot into the air quicker than melting butter. I felt like a QUEEN, handling Fred, Tony and Roy. I wore gloves too, in case you were wondering. And their claws were banded so no boo-boos on MY watch. 🙂
There’s Team Osprey above, studying their lobster. My older daughter appears to be enjoying herself. I am so glad. The students were divided into groups of three or four and given names, such as Team Seastar, Team Blue Whale and Team Puffin. The teams rotated around the room,
taking turns at all four high tech kiosk stations, where they applied the scientific method
- SHARE YOUR RESULTS
to problems such as whether trap limits for lobstermen will result in larger or smaller catches and/or profits. IMPORTANT STUFF. Not only are lobsters the tastiest, meatiest, liveliest crustaceans around, but for many of my neighbors here in Maine lobsters are in fact their LIVELIHOOD. As in fishing! But being a lobsterman isn’t all oil pants & glamour. It’s a hard job that entails long hours and whopping boatloads of stinky fish. All of which has to be paid for out of pocket. The GMRI is dedicated to helping those hard working fishermen by studying the effects of things like quotas on real life outcomes. And having 5th and 6th graders do all the work. Just kidding! Adult scientists conduct the real research, helping to ensure the future not only of Maine’s fishing industry, but of the animals and environment too. In this case, the lovable lobstah!
And those lobsters are wily! Whereas other animals have been over-hunted to the brink of extinction, the genius lobsters manage to evade capture time and time again. We learned all about how lobster traps work and why 3 different types of lobsters are returned to the sea after being caught, rather than being consumed. (Females with eggs, the BIG GUYS, and V-tagged females – those who were previously caught with eggs and then had a V cut out of their tail before being returned to the sea — all 3 helping to replenish the lobster stock.)
Additionally, we learned all about how lobsters molt their shells in order to grow, leaving them soft and vulnerable for a period of time. How lobsters spend much of their lives hiding under rocks, avoiding predators. How as tiny little lobster babies they eat plankton, and as they grow their tastes change (much like humans) and they switch to solid foods, such as sea snails, mollusks and fish. Such fascinating stuff! I know the next time I see a rusty lobster trap washed up on the beach, I’ll take a moment to reflect on our wonderful field trip and all the lobster knowledge I acquired, rather than just giving it a kick for fun and letting the dog have a sniff. And now perhaps you will too.
As a parting shot, I leave you with the GMRI’s charter bus, truly the classiest ride EVER. Forget the greyhound. WHO wouldn’t want to ride the LOBSTAH?!
PS: If you’ve forgotten all about it, PLEASE take a moment to vote for me!!!